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KBOO manager about-face welcomes staff union

Labor strife at KBOO Community Radio appears to be easing, after Station Manager Lynn Fitch promised the nonprofit would voluntarily recognize a staff union.

A formal election was scheduled May 30 for the station staff to vote on representation by the Communication Workers of America Local 7901. However, Fitch promised at a community meeting on Saturday that she no longer opposes the union drive, which could eliminate the need to hold a formal election.

To read a transcript of Saturday’s meeting: kboo.fm/content/kboospecialmembershipmeetingtaborspace050413

Fitch made the announcement to more than 200 volunteers, staff, board members and donors who attended what was billed as an emergency community meeting.

In recent weeks, eight of the station’s 11 paid staff signed union authorization cards after Fitch reduced employee benefits and changed employees to at-will status, meaning they can be fired without cause. She also set off alarms by telling staff they all might be laid off and forced to reapply for their jobs.

Fitch first backed down last week, when she agreed to a compromise with the union on the size of the bargaining unit, thus averting a scheduled National Labor Relations Board hearing to resolve that question. Now she’s gone further by saying she’ll simply recognize the union.

“There’s a movement in the direction of building a collaborative environment,” said S.W. “Conch” Conser, chairman of the KBOO Foundation board. Station management has told the National Labor Relations Board it will recognize the union and awaits formal word from the agency that an election won’t be needed, Conser said.

If the NLRB rules that an election isn’t necessary, the union can begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with station management, said Madelyn Elder, president of CWA Local 7901.

Fitch, who could not be reached for comment, earlier said the KBOO Foundation opposed staff unionization. She also hired the Bullard Law firm, which represents employers in labor matters, and lists “union avoidance” among its services.

Conser said Thursday, May 9, that the foundation board never took a position on the union drive.

At Saturday’s meeting, Fitch said she asked Bullard to contact the NLRB to inform it of the station’s move to recognize the union. “I believe that that will be last of the work and we will probably get part of our retainer back,” she said, according to a published transcript of the meeting.

Conser said he was really “heartened” by the passionate comments made at Saturday’s meeting. “That really speaks to the grassroots spirit of KBOO.”